Sunday, January 10, 2016

Life Goes Better With Friends

December 23, 2014

Growing up in Hong Kong, I watched my older cousins decorating and partying with friends at Christmas, and I couldn't wait to be old enough to join the fun.

But I did not pay attention to the true meaning of Christmas until December 1988 when two friends invited me to their church. At that time, even after achieving my American Dream, I often felt lonely and asked myself, "Is this what life is all about?"

Years later, living and working in the Silicon Valley, I learned that ...

"For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; ... And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

I hope this feature article Life Goes Better With Friends and my real life story What A Friend We Have In Jesus will help you find the true meaning of Christmas and reassurance of your real belonging.

Everyone knows that friends make life better, but there is a growing body of evidence that shows people who have good friendships and strong social circles live longer—as well as happier—lives.

In study after study, researchers have found that those who have friends are less likely to become disabled and, if they do suffer a period of disability, more likely to recover. Further, people with fewer friendships are more likely to have a heart attack and to die as a result, while people with more social contacts are less likely to suffer cognitive decline.

The message from all this research: If friends are gifts we give ourselves, it's good to be generous.

Why are friends so good for us?

Health-wise, friends encourage us to do what's good for us: eat better, drink less, exercise and seek medical care when we need it; friends listen to us when we need to let off steam and cheer us up when we're down. We stress less when we have friends who support us and help us along the way.

Frequently, family and friends are lumped together when people talk about support. However, friends don't usually make the same demands that family members sometimes do. The old saying goes, "We choose our friends, but we're stuck with our family." Granted, we may have a supportive family that we're very happy to be "stuck" with, but friendships allow us to experience ourselves in a new way and grow beyond the patterns and expectations of our family.

While friendships can be passing, we generally hang on to the ones that are meaningful. As we grow older, we may have fewer friends, but our pleasure in them grows. The reason: "People become more selective and get better at knowing the kind of people they like and don't like," says Stanford psychology professor Laura Carstensen. "And they steer away from those they don't care for."

These days, in our mobile, fast-paced culture, it's more difficult to make and maintain social relationships than when folks stayed in one place and had more leisure time. People move across town or across country and jam-pack their lives with schedules that leave no time for finding and nurturing friendships. Consequently, at the end of a too-full day or when a free weekend finally arrives, we may discover ourselves longing for the kind of easy pleasure friendship offers. Without friends, life can get lonely.

If you've moved to a new location, or your friends have drifted away and you need to restock the reservoir, reach out through joining groups and pursuing hobbies and interests where you're likely to find kindred spirits. Extend a hand and an invitation.

Like any other living thing, friendship requires care and feeding:

• Give your friendships priority, not just when you're lonely.

• A weekly date can provide the scaffolding for an enduring emotional relationship.

• When you can't be together physically, keep in touch by phone, email, letters. Send pictures, too.

• Celebrate occasions together. Be there for the big events and the small. Create celebrations of your own.

• Make time for old friends, even if it might be an inconvenience.

There is great wisdom in the simple lines from the childhood song, Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.

Friends can come from anywhere, and definitely can include members of your family and church. May you find deeper meaning of friendship in Christ!

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13 ESV)

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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